July 5, 2011 12:30 pm

The Village Bike, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London

THE VILLAGE BIKE by Penelope Skinner

Young couple Becky and John have moved to a cottage in the country to await the birth of their child and become, as Becky puts it, a bit more “rustic”. But the looked-for pastoral idyll seems to elude them. For a start the plumbing in their new home seems dodgy, making a fearful knocking sound at crucial moments. And while John embraces impending fatherhood, Becky struggles with her role in the nesting scenario. It’s clear that all is not well between them, particularly in what one might coyly call the “bedroom department”, when Becky sidles up to John in a skimpy negligee and he embarks on a speech about ethical shopping.

Penelope Skinner’s deliberately un-pastoral comedy follows other plays, such as Cock, at the Royal Court in its frank examination of sexuality and identity and the way the two overlap. John is confused by his protective feelings towards Becky and refuses to sleep with her; she feels rejected, frustrated and trapped. She turns first to John’s now disused porn DVDs and then to sordid encounters with Oliver Hardcastle, the local Lothario, to answer her needs.

More

On this story

IN Theatre & Dance

Skinner’s play is full of innuendos (the title being just one of them), as it brings a mischievous, light-hearted approach to a serious subject. Becky’s fixation with fantasy sex is contrasted wittily, but painfully, with reality, as the scenarios the films depict are replicated embarrassingly in real life: the plumber drops in to fix the pipes, for example, as she lurks, scantily clad, in the kitchen.

It is delivered with plenty of topspin by Joe Hill-Gibbins, in an entertaining production that revels in erotic clichés. But while often funny, the play also depicts six different sorts of loneliness, with each of the characters struggling to balance life, lust and love. Nicholas Burns makes us feel for the well-meaning but infuriating John, who rages at Becky for shopping at Tesco but turns a blind eye to her frantic desires. Dominic Rowan, as the randy Oliver, segues from sexiness to seediness before our eyes and Romola Garai gives a wonderfully intense performance as Becky: assertive, vulnerable and panic-struck by turns.

Skinner tidies the crisis up a bit too neatly, but still this is a daring play about sex and the confusing impact of pornography on intimacy. It’s also quite an eye-opener for anyone who fondly imagines that all English teachers spend their summer holidays poring over hefty novels.

4 stars

Royal Court Theatre

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Life & Arts on Twitter

More FT Twitter accounts